Ball Turret Gunner Photo Gallery

Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from the dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose. Randall Jarrell

A Tribute to the Gunner

The speaker in the poem is the ball turret gunner who is crouched inside the plexiglas hemisphere on the underside of the plane during an aircraft attack. Cold, cramped, and isolated from the rest of the crew, the ball turret was probably not a sought-after position on the plane. If you were unfortunate enough to be small or short, then the position would be yours. The gunner is recounting his experience not from life but from death. It is almost as if he is watching from outside himself, narrating what he sees happening to himself in a detached, unemotional way, as if he is looking at someone else being washed out of the turret ball.

No one ever really wants to face their mortality. Certainly a young enlisted man, eager to fight for his country, to make his family proud of him for doing his duty, did not really think he would actually die. “I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters” expresses not so much a physical awakening as it is a realization of his situation. Thinking about his dreams when the war was over and he went home, his reality was suddenly changing. The anti-aircraft shell burst and the fighters would be seen as nightmarish because it is like a bad dream that can’t possibly be real. Yet it was real. Inside the turret ball, with the fighter planes bearing down on him, he wanted to get out, to be anywhere else except trapped in that ball forced to meet his fate.

“When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose” grimly tells about the expulsion of the gunner from the "womb," an occurrence that is seen as cold. The State is indifferent to his death as the turret is prepared for the next gunner. Is the State really indifferent to the loss? I think it is not so much indifference as it is an emotional detachment. It is probably the only way the ground crew can function, much like emergency hospital workers. Without some detachment, it would be difficult to do their job. These men went up in these planes knowing the odds were against their return. It was wartime. They did not want to die. Yet, they did the job they were assigned. When one man fell, another would take his place. Poems like this attest to the impact the war had on soldiers and on those that fought by their side. They had to detach emotionally to get through it, but forget? I don’t think so. I think they cared deeply.

Flying the Ball Ball Turret in the Belly of a B-17 Flying Fortress Inside the Ball Inside the Ball Comfy Ball Turret Gunner A View as the Ball Turret Gunner

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

Though the Consolidated B-24 Liberator was built in greater numbers, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is often regarded as the more important heavy bomber for the American Allies in the Second World War, accounting for over 290,000 sorties against ground installations and dropping over 640,000 tons of bombs. By war's end, the B-17 Flying Fortress was a mainstay in both the Pacific and European Theaters of War. The system became the symbol of American bomber might in the Second World War and continues with its legendary status even today. Incidentally, the name “Flying Fortress” is purported to have come from one of the reporters present during the unveiling of the machine at the Boeing plant, remarking as to how the aircraft looked like a 15-ton “flying fortress”.

B-17 Flying Fortresses followed common practice in that they flew in what was known as the "box formation". This formation allowed every gunner on board the aircraft to bring their guns to bear to any position needed. Gunner positions on the B-17 included a top turret gunner manning 2 x 12.7mm machine guns, a tail gunner manning 2 x 12.7mm machine guns, a belly gunner manning 2 x 12.7mm machine guns, 2 x cheek gun emplacements, staggered waist gunner positions each manning a single 12.7mm machine gun and the Bendix chin turret. A limited-arc-of-fire, single 12.7mm machine gun position at the radio operators area was available in early models but later removed. The flight engineer doubled as the top turret gunner while the bombardier and navigator in the nose section doubled as front gunners. The belly turret gunner was generally of a small stature to be able to fit into the limited-space turret system. All positions were afforded some type of built-in armor protection but this varied extensively by position.

The Legendary B-17 Flying Fortress B-17 Crew Positions B-17 Bomber Flying Fortress Gun Positions B-17F s/n 41-24577, Hells Angels at Searcy Field, Stillwater, Oklahoma B-17F 42-24577 Hells Angels

B-17 Water Landing B-17 Interior B-17 Interior B-17 Gunner Position B-17 Ball Turret Gunner Position B-17 Interior


Did they send me away from my cat and my wife to a doctor who poked me and counted my teeth,
To a line on a plain, to a stove in a tent?
Did I nod in the flies of the schools?
And the fighters rolled into the tracer like rabbits, the blood froze over my splints like a scab.
Did I snore, all still and grey in the turret, 'til the palms rose out of the sea with my death?
And the world ends here in the sand of a grave, all my wars over? How easy it was to die!
Has my wife a pension of so many mice? Did the metals go home to my cat? Randall Jarrell

Ball Turret Battle Damage

Little Miss Lady Mischief took Flak near the ball turret Mangled fuselage and ball turret-bt gunner suffered loss of a toe and frostbite from the high altitude 20mm Shell Exploded Against the Faceplate-BT Gunner Survived B17 1944 Belly Landing at Podington Base Bedfordshire UK Ball Turret 30 Cal Bullet Hole

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